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In English it perfectly fine in a business context and for someone you have never met before to use Dear XXXX at the beginning of a letter or email.

This causes some difficulty when moving to another language because 亲爱的 may have a slightly different connotation to the English "dear".

Rather than having answers that say "yes you can" or "no you can't", I would appreciate if you could split into the following:

  • When is it definitely OK
  • When should I use my own judgement as to whether its appropriate
  • When is it definitely not OK
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1 Answer 1

Yes, "亲爱的" does indeed has a slightly different connotation to the English "Dear". It is not used as liberally in Chinese letters and emails. "亲爱的" expresses a closer relationship than "Dear" does. The following are situations where you may or may not use it:

  • When is it definitely OK:
    you writing to your spouse
    you writing to your lover
    you writing to your parent(s)
    you writing to your colleagues
    an organization writing to its customers or patrons
    an institution writing to its students

  • When should I use my own judgement as to whether its appropriate:
    male writing to a male friend
    male writing to a female friend
    female writing to a male friend
    male student writing to a female teacher (depending on relative age)
    male apprentice writing to a female mentor (depending on relative age)
    you writing to complete strangers

  • When is it definitely NOT OK:
    male writing to a female acquaintance
    male writing to a female colleague
    job seeker writing to the human resource department of a company
    anyone writing to higher authority

In business letters (公函), salutations (修饰词) such as "亲爱的" are seldom used as it is quite informal and personal. Instead, "尊敬的" may be used if the letter is addressed to a higher authority. However it is often dropped, sufficing with just a title to address the person:

XXX先生

XXX经理

For informal letters, "亲爱的" is appropriate if it is used to express closeness in a relationship. It could be written by an organisation. However, on a personal level, care has to be taken to avoid misunderstandings especially when the addressee is from the opposite sex.

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